In remembrance of Stephen Chifunyise, revered UNESCO Cultural Expert

Zimbabwe’s legendary playwright, cultural expert, theatre authority and a cultural master practitioner Stephen Chifunyise, affectionately known as ‘Uncle Steve,’ passed away at the age of 70. A UNESCO cultural expert who produced many trainers and cultural practitioners in Africa and across the globe, Chifunyise succumbed to cancer on 5th August 2019 in Harare.

In a statement, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe confirmed Chifunyise’s death and said the creative sector in the country has lost a legend. “Enveloped with intense anguish, sadness and complete helplessness, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe and the arts fraternity learnt of the heart-breaking passing on of the iconic and revered figure in the creative and cultural industry, the affable and irreplaceable Stephen Chifunyise,” read the statement.

The prolific playwright, who produced over 70 plays covering a wide range of issues, founded the Children Performance Arts Workshop (CHIPAWO) in 1989 together with Robert McLaren to identify and nurture young talent in the arts industry. Some of the talent which passed through CHIPAWO include Black Panther star Danai Gurira, the late singer Chiwoniso Maraire, and Chipo Chung.

Alongside the late Kenyan, Ngugi wa Miiri,Chifunyise was also instrumental in the formation of the Zimbabwe Association of Community Theatre (ZACT), the organisation that played a pivotal role in shaping the growth and development of theatre in Zimbabwe. His contributions to the development of professional actors in Zimbabwe, in both stage and film acting, were unparalleled.

We have lost a legend, father figure, coach and mentor.


“We have lost a legend, father figure, coach and mentor who was an exceptional arts and culture policy expert whose knack of understanding UNESCO Conventions, culture and heritage frameworks and policies was unmatched,” added the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe in its statement.

Condolences poured in from his colleagues in arts from UNESCO projects, to which he remained dedicated since the 1980s. Over the decades, he played prominent roles in the development of cultural policies through UNESCO for Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe among other countries. 

In recent years, he was an active Expert Facility member, a team of highly respected cultural policy experts from around the world who work to realize the vision of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Stephen was one of the first cultural professionals to join the Facility at its launch in 2010, that form a unique community of practice based on peer–to-peer learning and knowledge transfer, contributing to a new paradigm for development cooperation.

Ayeta Anne Wangusa, a fellow Expert Facility member and the Executive Director of Culture and Development East Africa, said "Rest in peace Uncle Steve, legendary Zimbabwean playwright and cultural expert. It was an honour to work with you on both UNESCO and African Union assignments. You were indeed a granary. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your stories."

Stephen Chifunyise dedicated his life to his craft, his culture and his African people.


Josh Nyampimbi, a beneficiary of the 2005 Convention’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity, also honoured his memories. “Stephen Chifunyise dedicated his life to his craft, his culture and his African people. Beginning in Zimbabwe to Zambia and the rest of the world, the man meant different things to different people. He was a fountain of knowledge and wisdom.”

The Secretariat of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention joins the entire arts and culture community in mourning the iconic expert whose articulation and deep understanding of arts and culture will be an inspiration for generations to come.

Goal(s) of UNESCO's 2005 Convention